Richmond’s longest-serving council leader and "towering figure" of local government Sir David Williams is to be awarded the freedom of the borough – the highest honour it can award.

Lord True, the current council leader, announced during Tuesday’s budget meeting that Sir David – who represented the Ham and Petersham ward between 1974 and 2014 – will be honoured.

Sir David said: “It has been a real privilege to represent the local community for more than half my life. I think I made a difference both Richmond-upon-Thames and to Ham and Petersham.

“Ham and Petersham was a wonderful place to represent as it has a strong community feeling – and such a beautiful environment, with both the park and the river. Thank you for this recognition.”

Sir David was leader of Richmond Council from 1983 until 2001, but retired from local government politics recently after losing his council seat in 2014.

Sir David was also Liberal Democrat group leader and vice chair at the Local Government Association from 1997 until 2001, receiving a knighthood in 1999 for services to local government.

He was also the borough’s longest-serving continual councillor.

Conservative Lord True’s announcement surprised some, due to Sir David’s adversarial attitude towards his party in his Richmond Council career.

The current deputy leader, Councillor Geoffrey Samuel, said Sir David was a “smart politically aggressive” figure, and a long-time adversary of the Conservatives.

Cllr Samuel said: “Some of our councillors might have put up a bit of resistance against it but they didn’t. Sir David was a rival for a long time, but I think the fact we could put that aside and recognise him is British politics at its best.”

Former local Liberal Democrat leader, Councillor Stephen Knight, said it was the “right thing to do” for the Conservatives, arguing such decisions are usually non-partisan ones.

Cllr Knight praised Sir David, saying his legacy in Richmond was that he ensured the borough was not “entirely Tory-led”, and promoting the borough’s “excellence in education”.

Lord True said: “Not only is he the longest serving councillor, but also the longest leader. A combination that is not likely to be rivalled again.

“Sir David has left a long legacy in the borough, including leading on the redevelopment of Richmond Riverside, a destination that thousands of people enjoy.

“It is only right that we recognise his hard work and contribution in this way.”

Current Liberal Democrat leader, Councillor Gareth Roberts, echoed this, describing Sir David as a “towering figure” of local politics.